Dealing With a Romantic Rivalry Between Siblings

How do we stop our two teenage sons from fighting over a girl? What should we do? The sixteen-year-old, who has always been more outgoing than his brother, has struck up a "friendship" with a girl our seventeen-year-old has liked for over a year. This kind of thing has happened before, though it's always been with male friends in the past. The older brother accuses the younger of stealing all his friends and says he hates him. The younger brother doesn't care-he says people are free to associate with anyone they choose. Should we let them fight it out? Restrict the sixteen-year-old's access to this girl? Or tell the seventeen-year-old to grow up and live with it?

As we see it, this is a great opportunity for both of your sons to grow up a bit. They’ve allowed selfishness and jealousy to mar their relationship and create tension in the family. The older boy needs to get out of the “blame game” and take responsibility for his own friendships. And the sixteen-year-old needs to start treating his brother with greater kindness and respect.

We suggest you have a sit-down meeting with both of them. Be sure to choose a time when everyone is getting along and tempers aren’t flaring. Start off by re-affirming your love for each of your sons. Then tell them that you’re very disappointed with their behavior. Remind them that, as their parents, one of your responsibilities is to teach the importance of character and prepare them to live in the real world.

Let them know that their self-centered attitudes have to change. Make it clear that you’re going to help them make that change by implementing a system of firm consequences for negative behaviors. Explain that every time they display selfish attitudes they will lose certain privileges. You’ll have to decide what the consequences are going to be, but since they’re teenagers you might want to consider such things as driving and cell-phone privileges, internet use, and socializing with friends. Spell this out in a behavior contract. Then start enforcing it firmly. Make sure you’re fair. Don’t let yourself get caught up in debates over “who started it.” If it’s clear that both boys are in the wrong, then both of them experience the consequences.

As far as the dispute over the girl goes, her feelings are her own. Ultimately she will decide if she likes either one of the boys. Your role is to set clear guidelines on dating and relationships, and to make sure both of your sons treat the girl with respect. You can also teach them discernment skills. Give them some criteria for determining whether or not this young woman displays godly character-in other words, whether she’s even worth pursuing in the first place.

If you need help putting these suggestions into practice, don’t hesitate to give our staff counselors a call. They’d be more than happy to discuss the situation with you over the phone. They can also provide you with referrals to qualified family therapists in your area who specialize in sibling conflicts and communication issues.


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